5 Science Experiments That Simply Will Not End
Most people’s experience with science experiments probably ends fairly quickly after they leave high school. Once you’re out in the world, unless you’re actively pursuing a career in science, the days of test tubes and beakers are in your past. You’d also be forgiven for thinking that science experiments have a pretty clear start and finish, usually one that can occur between the space of two school bells.
In reality, though, science is nowhere near as convenient as a couple of color-changing chemistry experiments done between history and math class. Nature and the cosmos are famously in no particular hurry, and so trying to figure out their mysteries can take an incredibly long time. There are things out there that can’t be learned without more than one generation of scientists maintaining the very same experiment over decades, or even centuries.
To that end, here are five science experiments that just won’t end…
The pitch-drop experiment has nothing to do with, as an American might read it, the low, dulcet voice of a bass or baritone. It’s instead about the substance pitch, which we would know better as tar or asphalt. Now, you might consider asphalt pretty definitively a solid, given that it’s built to support extremely heavy machines rumbling along at high speeds. The brainfuck truth, however, is that when you’re driving on asphalt, you’re driving on an extremely viscous liquid.
The pitch-drop experiment was designed to prove this by Professor Thomas Parnell of the University of Queensland back in 1927. He heated up pitch, poured it into a sealed funnel and allowed it to settle satisfactorily, which in itself took three years. He then removed the bottom of the funnel, and he was off to the extremely slow races. This was all sealed in a bell jar to prevent interference. Eight years later, a drop of pitch fell, proving it was in fact an extremely high-viscosity liquid, and drops have continued to fall a couple years apart ever since.
Framingham Heart Study
The Framingham Heart Study started in 1948 in the titular town of Framingham, Massachusetts. This town was much more than just a place to conduct research, though. The population of the town itself was, for the most part, the subject of the experiment. Don’t worry, it wasn’t anything terrifying, like something that would produce 12-limbed New Englanders: The Framingham study researches causes and risk factors for heart disease, something that takes a long time to develop.
The first group to be studied was made up of approximately two-thirds of Framingham’s population, those between the ages of 30 and 62, who would every two years come in for testing and to be surveyed about their lifestyle choices. The study continues today, and it has a literal heritage: Groups of people participating in the study today are made up of the original cohort’s children, and their children’s children. Three generations of tickers have been monitored, and it’s provided doctors everywhere with more accurate scoldings of patients’ habits.
William James Beal Germination Experiment
See seed, plant seed, plant grow. Now, anyone who’s tried to keep a houseplant alive knows it’s not nearly that straightforward, but still, you generally like to think that if you have a seed, you’ve got a chance at growing a copy of its daddy. What William James Beal wanted to know was if seeds kept indefinitely, or if they would no longer sprout after long periods of dormancy.
In 1897, with that goal in mind, Beal packed a bunch of bottles with sand and a mix of seeds, buried them underground (pointed down so water couldn’t enter) and bequeathed his question to future generations. Every five years, which was later lengthened to 20, one of the bottles gets dug up and its contents planted. The last time this happened was in 2020, a year in which the scientists surely felt like they had some bigger stuff going on, and 2 of 21 seeds successfully sprouted. And unless you’re a small child reading the internet unsupervised, you’ll likely never see the experiment finished, as it's scheduled for the still very made-up sounding year of 2100.
The Grant Study
The Grant Study had a pretty lofty and seemingly unscientific goal: figure out what makes us happy, and how that happiness affects our health. It started with a group of 268 young men in 1938, and it continues today with their offspring. Of course, to figure out long-term fulfillment and how it shapes a life takes, obviously, a lifetime. Only 19 of the original subjects are still alive today, though one of the dead is probably its most famous participant: John F. Kennedy.
Their lives, whether long, happy or neither, did provide a wealth of information to be studied, and the results weren’t all exactly as expected. One of the most fascinating lessons to come out of it, and one you’ve probably heard quoted, is how closely our relationships and physical health are linked. Robert Waldinger gave a TED Talk on the subject, with the quote “Loneliness kills” becoming maybe the most memorable tidbit. They even found that satisfaction in personal relationships at age 50 was a better predictor of future health than cholesterol levels.
Take that, Framingham Heart Study!
Average Penis Size
You’d think this shit would be easy enough to figure out. Just get a bunch of penis owners in a room and measure the damn things. Yet, it seems like scientists, and the population at large (no pun intended) cannot for the life of them ever agree on a figure. Did we really need separate studies (WARNING FOR WORK CLICKERS: many penises in that link) done in 1996, 2000, 2007, 2007 (again), 2013 and 2015?
Buddy, it ain’t gettin any bigger.